Kristin Lowe: Overwhelmed by emails? We have cures…

Overwhelmed by emails?  Kristin Lowe, Asia-Pacific’s first Certified Professional Organizer, shows you how to concur it, by learning from the procedures adopted in ER…  Details of Kristin at Speakers Connect

Kristin Lowe, Speakers ConnectLet’s say there’s been a massive traffic accident on a highway near you. Within minutes, the emergency room reception area of the nearest major hospital is packed with over 100 victims, all in varying states of need, all expecting to receive near-immediate attention. The emergency room nurses spring into action.

Question: What’s the first thing they do?

Answer: They apply a process called triage.

Definition: Triage is the sorting of, and allocation of, treatment to patients, especially battle and disaster victims, according to a proven system of priorities designed to maximise the number of survivors.

Application: What’s this got to do with email? It’s a near-perfect metaphor, actually. Read on to see how a triage approach to managing your inbox will add hours to your week and minimise email stress.

The word triage comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select. The triage process used by emergency room staffers is designed to simplify decision making. A colour-coded tag is used to identify the next actions to be taken as follows:

Black:  Deceased/Expectant

Patients are so severely injured that they will die of their injuries, possibly in hours or days; they should be taken to a holding area and given painkillers as required to reduce suffering.

Red:  Immediate/Life Threatening

Patients require immediate surgery or other life-saving intervention, and have first priority for surgical teams or transport to advanced facilities; they “cannot wait” but are likely to survive with immediate treatment.

Yellow: Delayed/ Observation

Patients’ condition is stable for the moment but requires watching by trained persons and frequent re-triage, will need hospital care (and would receive immediate priority care under “normal” circumstances).

Green:  Minor/Wait

Patients will require a doctor’s care in several hours or days but not immediately, may wait for a number of hours or be told to go home and come back the next day.

White:  Dismiss/Walking Wounded

Patients have minor injuries; first aid and home care are sufficient, a doctor’s care is not required.


Now, once our triage team has finished with the sorting, what do they do next? They turn their attention toward treating the highest priority cases.  They can do this with greater peace of mind and focus because they know every case has been reviewed and prioritised. To avoid random and reactive treatment – and potentially losing sight of true priorities – they’ve first concentrated on completing an efficient and focused sorting process before getting down to work.


So, to make this work for your email a couple of things are needed:

  1. An understanding of the difference between sorting email and working on the stuff that’s in the email. Anything in between is highly inefficient, even if you like to call it ‘multi-tasking.’
  2. A commitment to sort (a.k.a. ‘process’) your entire inbox down to empty on a regular basis. The goal of this exercise is to make a decision about every email and ‘tag it’ – literally if that’s your thing, or or file it for follow-up, or make a task out of it, or grab what’s useful from it, or get rid of it. This is a different activity from actually doing all the work required by some of the emails. You’ll do that next – or later – or never…per your decision.

To triage your email well, your brain may also need to get better at:

  • being selective about deserves your time and attention
  • being decisive about how and when you will follow through on things (or not)

Imagine, then, a triage system for your emails:

  • Black: Dead or Done – Junk or stuff I’m finished with (delete or file as Done)
  • Red: Do Immediately – Do or Die – as soon as I’m finished with the triage
  • Yellow: Do Soon – Take care of this Today or This Week (file for follow-up or schedule a task accordingly)
  • Green:  Can Wait – Throw into Next Week or Later (file for review on Friday/Monday or monthly)
  • White: Info Only – Grab what I need from this (idea, information, link, phone number, etc.) – and then the email will be Black

Cautionary note to organising junkies:

Am I suggesting you create an elaborate colour-coding scheme for your emails? Please…no! It’s a metaphor.

Kristin Lowe is a speaker of Speakers Connect.  Contact us at to book her or for more information.